School impact fees may freeze

The School Board can't justify a hike with home sales low.

By TOM MARSHALL, Times Staff Writer
Published January 16, 2008

BROOKSVILLE - Do you raise prices when no one's buying?

No way, said the Hernando School Board, agreeing Tuesday to not recommend raising the school portion of impact fees the county charges builders to defray the costs of development.

"When people aren't building is not the time to say, well, let's raise your tax," said board member Jim Malcolm.

The county now charges a $4,266 fee on new, single family homes to partially compensate for the additional burden on schools, said finance director Deborah Bruggink.

That's far less than the actual, $27,000 cost of building and staffing one additional student station, Malcolm told the board.

And board consultants Henderson Young & Co. of Redmond, Wash., agreed. Under the consultants' formulation, the school portion of impact fees would rise to $10,000. Including costs for other county services, the total impact fee would rise from $9,027 to more than $14,000.

The new formula uses more current enrollment figures and includes the cost of borrowing money for school construction.

The Hernando Builders Association took issue with that methodology in a memo to the district, saying the consultant was including some unwarranted costs.

But board members stood by their right to recommend higher impact fees to the County Commission, which is charged with raising and lowering such rates, and to use the new formula recommended by its consultant.

Other counties have used Henderson Young's formula and won in court, noted Chairwoman Sandra Nicholson.

Board members were unanimous in saying they couldn't justify raising impact fees now, with the housing market in a deep slump. But they said they'd likely revisit the issue when the economy improves, with an eye toward phasing in higher rates.

"Our taxpayers are taxed to the max, and I believe we all know that," said board member Dianne Bonfield. "But someone has to pay for growth."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.